For years, Baker Elementary in Southeast San Diego had a music magnet curriculum designed in large part to lure non-resident white students to the heavily black and Latino school as part of the San Diego district’s voluntary integration program.
But special music instruction did little to mask more fundamental problems with the school’s basic skills curriculum. As a result, few white parents were persuaded to send their children to Baker, and few resident minority students made achievement gains.
This fall, the school district revamped Baker, replacing music with reading and writing programs targeted for black and Latino resident students.
While the new programs are still paid for with state educational integration money, the focus is no longer on attracting white students, even though the school retains a recruitment effort. The school has only 11 whites who bus to the facility compared with 660 neighborhood children.
The reshaping of Baker is reflected in similar changes now occurring at many of the district’s 46 magnet programs, which are a large part of the state-funded $45-million total annual integration plan for San Diego.
After almost a decade at minority-isolated schools, special magnet offerings are being recast to emphasize the need for minority student achievement. Although district magnets have brought some white students to segregated campuses, they have not generally reduced the large gap in performance between white and Asian students, on the one hand, and African-American and Latino, at the other end of the spectrum.
The changing nature of school integration will occupy a key portion of the discussions at a three-day national integration conference that began Sunday night at the San Diego Convention Center, sponsored by the city school district.
“Many are now saying that it’s OK to give parents options where to put their children (for integration purposes), but that the more important thing is to improve student achievement,” Ruben Carriedo, assistant superintendent of planning, research and evaluation for the San Diego schools, said in an interview.
“Some even suggest that now we don’t have to pursue education in an integrated school, even if that goes against the original intent and philosophy of the integration programs.”
San Diego city schools Supt. Tom Payzant, a longtime advocate of integration, insists that the commitment locally--as well as nationally--to school integration cannot be allowed to waiver, saying students need to be educated to live in a multicultural society.
“Our goal is quality education for all kids and as much as possible in an integrated setting,” Payzant said. “I think it’s still possible, although the picture has been mixed. If we were to back off on integration, I’m not the person, in disposition or philosophy, to lead that effort.”
San Diego began its integration efforts in the mid-1970s with programs to encourage parents to bus their children voluntarily to schools with either heavily white or heavily minority enrollments. While parents of nonwhite students took part--their perception being that schools in white neighborhoods offered a better education--almost no children chose to bus to minority areas.
In response, San Diego devised as well the magnet program to set up special offerings in minority schools that would attract white students and avoid the alternative of mandatory busing under court order. While the first magnets involved only part of a school’s population, they were eventually expanded to include all students, resident or non-resident, at a particular school.
But now there is dissatisfaction over the lack of progress for minority students that many assumed would follow with the magnets.
“In one sense, it’s hard to make so many different programs ‘creative,’ ” Carriedo said. When educators cite magnet programs in San Diego or elsewhere around the country, they usually point to those offering foreign-language immersion, or computers and science, or performing arts classes.
“There can only be so many of those,” he said. Those programs are among the more successful efforts in San Diego, in terms of attracting white students and raising the achievement of resident nonwhite children.
The district perennially projects more white participation in its magnets than turns out to be the case. For example, in the spring of 1989, estimates for the number of non-resident white students in fall 1989 were 28% higher than the actual numbers--about 2,000 students--who turned out for elementary programs.
The late George Frey, former head of integration programs for San Diego city schools, admitted in a 1988 interview that some magnets were special only in name.
“At first, there is an illusion that a name has for parents,” Frey said, giving as one example the “fundamental learning” magnets that the district later abandoned. “When they really analyzed the content, they found out that nothing was going on that was really any different from any school, and we then lost enrollment.”
Frey said that the benefits of integration were always secondary, compared with strong academics, for almost all white parents who chose to use a magnet. Black and Latino parents were slower to make the same demands.
“I don’t think African-American people were ever crazy about school integration, especially when it involved mostly busing their kids out of the neighborhoods,” said Shirley Weber, incoming president of the city school board and professor of Afro-American studies at San Diego State University.
“But the magnets promised a way to help eliminate what we saw as inferior curriculums” in minority schools. “Yet we haven’t seen a whole lot of change in achievement and we don’t see a whole lot of change in the social order as well--we still have segregated housing areas and we still see racial violence on college campuses” even though present college students would have attended more integrated elementary and secondary schools than their predecessors.
However, even Weber is reluctant to advocate a wholesale scrapping of the present integration program.
“In one way, we probably should go back to the drawing board, but that would be painful because the two major choices would be forced busing or getting rid of integration completely,” she said.
“While it now seems like we are patching things together on a house that doesn’t look like the one we originally wanted to build, we’ve got no idea of what a new one would look like if we tore it down.”
Weber also worried about being mentioned in the same breath as segregationists such as Tom Metzger if minority communities are seen as anti-school integration.
Several district principals and administrators deny that the situation has to come to such a juncture and that improving magnet schools is only part of the larger picture of addressing black and Latino achievement through such reforms as new teaching styles, class size, and family programs.
“Integration is a value by itself that we need to blend as much as possible with education,” Robert Stein, principal at the new O’Farrell Middle School in Valencia Park, said. “I understand the frustration of parents who feel the system is not doing enough for his or her child, and that’s why we’re trying to change the whole structure of school.”
Stein’s handpicked staff is offering the same advanced middle-level curriculum to all its students--a mixture of black, Latino and Filipino children--and the teachers have sacrificed their usual aides, office assistants and administrators to use the money instead for smaller class sizes and better social services for students and their families.
“Our goal is to provide all kids with the very best curriculum and in a multicultural setting,” Stein, a veteran of integration efforts in San Diego, said of his new magnet that is experimenting with a whole host of educational reform ideas.
“I’d love to attract 500 Anglo students and I’ll be disappointed if I only get 50 or so. But that doesn’t mean we can’t be successful even if the school is 90% nonwhite. I still believe that the students can learn, and if we can prove that, and I say ‘if,’ wouldn’t that be some model to use?”
Teachers and administrators at Kennedy Elementary in Southeast San Diego, another magnet long unattractive to white students and with low achievement for its resident children, are close to completing a new vision for their school.
“It’s far from easy,” vice-principal Michael Lazard said. “We’re wrestling with where to put our money, into people or programs, and asking whether a lot of bells and whistles really make a difference in achievement (compared with) more staff development and help for teachers to know different learning styles of children” and improve achievement.
There is some criticism that state money for integration is not being used directly for programs to mix students more. David Kirp, professor of public affairs at UC Berkeley, wrote earlier this month that the state spends a half-billion dollars annually for integration yet urban school systems around the state show little success.
In addition, Carriedo said that educators increasingly discuss whether it makes sense to define integration in terms of white/nonwhite percentages as urban districts, particularly those in California, become more multiethnic.
“If a school is one-third white, one-third black and one-third Hispanic, is that bad?” Carriedo asked. “Some say ‘yes’ because the white percentage would be too small but others might say it’s OK, but you need to add some Asian students.
“But to sit down with the courts and redefine that might bring about a very different kind of integration program.”